Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Today is Veteran’s Day here in the United States. Politicians will speak in honor of veterans. The Veterans Administration system will go about the complex task of caring for our nation’s veterans. Some veterans may find job leads on this very day that give them a fresh start on their lives. And some veterans, in all likelihood, will kill themselves.
Suicide among service-members (both those who are active duty as well as those who are veterans) is a serious problem which receives little consistent attention in the main media outlets available in this country. Though it pains me to hear stories of service-members who ultimately choose to kill themselves I can all too easily understand the reasons why some veterans make this choice. The horror of what some of them witness or even participate in during time of conflict can be excruciating. Who could possibly want to go about living with such tragic memories etched in their minds. The apparent finality and quietude of death can appear to be a sweet release.
I never have served in the military. Shortly after I completed my graduate degree at the Monterey Institute of International Studies I attempted to join the U.S. Navy Reserve. My application didn’t get very far. I suppose it may have been a matter of my age. At the time I applied I was in my late thirties. The military, in my opinion, tends to look more approvingly on candidates of a younger age. They are more likely to be healthy and are more likely to be able to offer years and even decades of service within the United States military. I felt fairly bummed for a short time after I gave up on this career possibility. But looking back with additional hindsight I feel it was a good thing I was never offered a spot in the Navy.
Though I never served in the military I have family members who have. My father served in the Army. His father was drafted during World War II. Indeed, my two grandfathers fought on opposing sides in World War II. Fate and circumstances beyond our control can make for interesting bedfellows. People we might never consider an ‘enemy’ may be rendered as such in a political discourse designed to create the perception of an evil Other.
It goes without saying that present and former service-members would be at risk of developing PTSD. As I noted above their experiences within the military can ultimately prove very traumatic. Seeing people kill one another in the name of a nation much larger than any one person must be a horrible thing to witness.
And yet the wounds some service-members incur on the battlefield may mark merely the beginning of a series of harmful consequences. Guilt, shame or a deep need to avoid memories of past trauma may lead some service-members to behave in a profoundly different way upon their reentry into civil society. Indeed, their whole personality may appear to change. Family members and friends who find themselves noticing such a significant change in a loved one may feel at a loss as to how to relate to a person they no longer can easily recognize. Memories may haunt service-members and, as a result of coping mechanisms they may later employ, relationships may become strained to the point of dissolution. Family members may ultimately come to feel a bit haunted themselves if and when they perceive their loved one has developed new, dysfunctional behaviors as a means of coping.
Eventually a whole family may feel haunted by the experience of a single family member.
How can I theorize to such an extent about the possible consequences of something (war) I have never experienced? I feel able to do so because growing up near a person suffering from mental illness (my own mother) and then later suffering the additional horror of nearly losing my father to attempted murder was, in my opinion, quite equivalent to growing up in a war zone. It’s no wonder I developed an anxiety disorder considering what I endured. I have questions about my early life history I doubt I will ever receive satisfactory answers to. And so I made the painful choice of disengaging from a family that seems deeply committed to avoiding painful topics as a way of coping with the darkness of the past. But such avoidance came at a terrible cost: my enduring alienation.
I am learning to build a new life for myself now. It is indeed a process. More than sixteen months into the process I am well on my way. There are still plenty of days in which the sadness I felt as a child suddenly looms large. I will feel the sadness well up within me like a giant tsunami wave. On such occasions it can be easy for me to feel nearly diminished to the point of being only able to breathe…and nothing more. But thankfully those difficult days are becoming increasingly less frequent.
We seem to have suddenly skipped the remainder of what was a glorious autumn. The calendar reads November but the weather is reminiscent of January. As the world outside my windows slides into hibernation and our area lakes undergo something of a flash-freeze process I find myself wistfully recalling the past summer now long gone. It was my first summer of life in I was no longer clinically diagnosable for PTSD. It was my first summer in which the old wounds of my childhood lay opened up for me and my therapist to explore.
I am in a much better place right now. I am moving forward. I dream of a brighter future before me.
Fifty Day Challenge, Day #47
Healthy activities for today:
§ I sought out treatment for my right foot (it began hurting this past Sunday)
§ I prepared for the upcoming Mister Minneapolis Eagle competition